Food bank and charities busy in Algarve as pandemic devastates tourism in Portugal By Reuters

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5/5 © Reuters. Volunteers work at the Eastern Algarve Food Bank for Needy Families, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Tavira 2/5

By Catarina Demony FARO, Portugal (Reuters) – Carla Lacerda used to earn a good salary selling duty-free goods to tourists arriving at the Algarve airport in southern Portugal, but lost her job last August due to the COVID pandemic -19 and quickly ran out of cash to feed her two children. The 40-year-old now receives around 500 euros ($ 587) per month in unemployment benefits, leaving her with no choice but to join the queue for food donations. “I never thought I’d be in this situation,” Lacerda said as she waited for milk, vegetables and other staples at the Refood charity in Faro, the Algarve’s capital. “It‘s sad to have reached this point, but I’m not ashamed.” Lacerda is one of thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted by the pandemic, which has devastated tourism in the sunny Algarve region and left its popular beaches and golf courses largely deserted. The Algarve food bank, which has two warehouses in the region, is now helping 29,000 people, almost twice as many as before the pandemic. “It is the first time since the Algarve food bank started that the numbers have reached such a level,” said its president, Nuno Alves, as volunteers distributed food to drivers of various charities who waited in their cars outside. Poverty is spreading among the middle class, Alves said, and people in the crucial tourism sector are hit the hardest. Many businesses have had to close and some may never reopen. In February, the number of registered unemployed in the Algarve increased by 74% over the previous year, more than in any other Portuguese region. ‘GOING HUNGER’ At the Faro branch of Refood, which collects unwanted food from restaurants and supermarkets and distributes it to those in need, 172 families line up for supplies each week, an increase of around 160% since the pandemic began . “We help an architect, a teacher, a nurse, a social worker,” said coordinator Paula Matias. “It is very sad. I am a mother and I cannot imagine what it is like not to have a plate of food to give to your children.” A man in his 30s who requested anonymity told Reuters he had lost his job as a personal fitness trainer for wealthy expatriates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also claimed the lives of his brother and nephew. He sold everything he had, from his flashy car to a fish tank, to pay the bills, but in January he had to ask for help from the community organization MAPS, which now gives him food, and also psychological support after he tried to take his own life. . “I tried to be strong but I couldn’t,” he said. “The government‘s support never came and I couldn’t get out of the situation.” MAPS Vice President Elsa Cardoso said requests for help continued to rise and that some people who had worked in tourism jobs were now homeless. “Every day there are more people who can no longer support themselves, who have been evicted,” Cardoso said, adding that things could take a while to improve. Portugal has been under a second strict lockdown since January that is only now gradually softening. British retiree Denise Dahl said distributing food to the vulnerable through her own organization ‘East Algarve Families in Need’ helped her get through the grieving process after she lost her husband Terje to COVID-19 in December. “If I didn’t have this, I don’t know what would have happened,” said Dahl, who lives in the city of Tavira, adding that the situation in the Algarve continued to worsen. “With the lack of tourists arriving this year, we expect even more families to go hungry.” ($ 1 = 0.8522 euros)